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  (Source: Binary Heroes/DailyTech)
David Cohen skips the pleasantries in refuting Kevin Martin's claims

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin received a nasty letter (PDF) from Comcast VP David Cohen last Friday, full of disappointment over Martin’s choice of words in a Thursday statement responding to the recent Comcast-BitTorrent agreement.

Martin originally said that he was “pleased that Comcast has reversed course and agreed that it is not a reasonable network management practice to arbitrarily block certain applications on its network.”

“Your response,” wrote Cohen, “was perplexing; it repeated erroneous characterizations of Comcast’s network management practices and disclosure policies that we have taken great pains to clarify on multiple occasions.”

“As we have unambiguously stated on the record, Comcast’s customers have been, are, and will continue to be free to access any lawful Internet content and to use any application and service of their choice, including those that utilize peer-to-peer (‘P2P’) protocols.”

Cohen called his company’s policy a “delaying” act, allowing Comcast to better allocate what it claims to be scarce resources: a system that is “reasonable,” “minimally intrusive” and switched on “only when necessary to prevent network congestion.”

“These practices do not deny our customers’ access to these applications and services, but rather facilitate and enable the use of these and countless other applications and services by all of our customers,” he said.

The trouble with Martin’s “characterization,” as well as Cohen’s response, is that both are accurate in some ways and inaccurate in others: when Comcast’s “data discrimination” was originally discovered in October 2007, it was found to adversely affect a large number of protocols, including BitTorrent, e-Donkey, Gnutella, and even Lotus Notes.

For BitTorrent downloads, Comcast’s “delaying” – which manifests as Comcast’s servers injecting spoofed “reset” messages inside a given BitTorrent connection, causing both ends to disconnect – would only kick in after the user’s torrent switched to “seeding” mode, which occurs after it finishes downloading. This means that while the file in question wasn’t truly “blocked” per se, Comcast is responsible for hurting the health of the overall swarm (the collection of all computers involved in a given BitTorrent download) and, in some cases, rendering BitTorrent downloads to be unacceptably slow for users both in and out of Comcast’s network.

Martin also questioned Comcast’s timeline, wondering why its current policy is set to “continue throughout the country until the end of the year and in some markets, even longer.”

“It is not at all obvious why Comcast couldn’t stop its current practice of arbitrarily blocking its broadband customers from using certain applications,” he stated.

 “We just cannot turn off our current system overnight,” replied Cohen, “ and put our customers at risk of network congestion. For the benefit of our customers, it is essential that the migration be appropriately timed, a reality that BitTorrent and numerous commentators acknowledge.”

While the Comcast-BitTorrent agreement has indeed received wide praise, it is not without its skeptics: Vuze, Inc., makers of the popular BitTorrent client Azureus Vuze and the Vuze legal media portal, also filed a brief with the Commission, arguing for government regulation regardless of what becomes of Comcast’s agreement (PDF).

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By leexgx on 4/3/2008 9:09:14 PM , Rating: 2
should not be so hard for bit torrent to be modified to get past this problem just ignore disconnect packets and make an new one, more reason to use scrambled packets more

utorrent should be good as alot of users use it other official bit torrent any way

RE: blocking
By Master Kenobi on 4/3/2008 9:51:46 PM , Rating: 2
Encrypting the packets might also get around this depending on how Comcast is checking to see what is torrent related and what isn't.

RE: blocking
By TomCorelis on 4/3/2008 10:33:47 PM , Rating: 4
BitTorrent connections follow a very distinguishable, P2P-looking pattern: hundreds of tiny, brief connections and the occasional file chunk per minute.

Sure, they can't look at an encrypted packet and say, "Oh, that looks like a BitTorrent packet!" but they can look at the overall pattern and guess you're using P2P. Seeding is similarly recognizable.

It's kind of like the government accusing you of having links with terrorism by looking at records of who you've called, but without listening to the content of your individual phone calls, a.k.a. the AT&T-NSA spying scandal. :-)

RE: blocking
By Grast on 4/3/08, Rating: -1
RE: blocking
By DigitalFreak on 4/4/08, Rating: -1
RE: blocking
By Macuser89 on 4/3/2008 10:56:38 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the device that Comcast used to block Bit torrent traffic was called Sandvine.

Sandvine is able to read your packets, and manipulate them.
Comcast set the Sandvine up to change your packets to a peer reset packet when you make a connection as a seed. A reset packet is what Bit Torrent uses to end a connection.

Sandvine some how is impervious to most Bit Torrent encryptions, and the only way I found to get around it was to VPN out of the Comcast network. This of course is not a real feasible option.

I sure hope that Comcast does not try to pull this BS again. But then again they probably will, as it can save them tons of money.

RE: blocking
By TomCorelis on 4/3/2008 11:05:42 PM , Rating: 2
I was actually referring to the use of encryption as a means of circumventing Sandvine and other traffic shaping measures...

RE: blocking
By scoprio487 on 4/4/2008 1:17:39 AM , Rating: 2
Encyption will only make the content of the packet unreadable, it won't change the pattern that is being recognized by Sandvine.

RE: blocking
By Alexstarfire on 4/4/2008 1:46:07 AM , Rating: 1
Except that's not what anyone has said it does. Without being able to read the packet it is IMPOSSIBLE to know exactly what is going on. Guesses are not the same as knowing. If they just arbitrarily block you because they think you are seeding, then it would seem to block other applications as well. I would think that certain online games would also be affected. You have to send information to everyone nearly constantly.

Also, this is in no way similar to people calling known terrorists. It's more like knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone that is a terrorist. While they may have known terrorists, there aren't any real known seeders, not in any significant amount anyways. With the hundreds of thousands of people on BitTorrent at any given moment it'd be impossible to have every seeder identified.

BTW, the Beta version of uTorrent, and likely some other programs as well, can get around the Sandvine program. It's called Teredo and uses the IPv6 protocol. Only downside is that it only works with other uses that have a client using Teredo installed.

All for the customers eh?
By jeff834 on 4/4/2008 1:27:01 AM , Rating: 4
Is it just me or does anyone else find it ridiculously disingenuous when executives from major corporations constantly say how screwing with the service they provide is done "for the customer"?

Generic corporate VP: "Sure we raised our prices, but we did it for the customer. You see our customers have been burdened by their heavy wallets for so long we've finally discovered a way to offer relief. It has absolutely nothing to do with the $500 million I was paid this year."

Believe me I know corporations are out there to make money and I don't fault them for that usually (oil companies may be an exception), but I get really annoyed when I read the PR BS about how they do something to help the customer when it really only helps the company. It would be quite refreshing (although probably very unrealistic) to hear a corporation say they pulled some crap move screwing their customers to make more money for themselves.

On a side note Verizon Fios will be available here within the year and I certainly plan to switch. 2-3 times faster than Comcast for the same price? Why wouldn't I?

RE: All for the customers eh?
By fic2 on 4/4/2008 12:10:50 PM , Rating: 2
My favorite is when they raise prices "to remain competitive". Somehow being competitive has a different meaning in the corporate PR spin world.

RE: All for the customers eh?
By phxfreddy on 4/5/2008 5:23:27 PM , Rating: 2
Take it easy on oil. Its cheaper than a gallon of milk...and they actually GIVE you something for the money in contrast to politicos who grill big oil and essentially are the cause of the high prices in that they do not let them drill anywhere that is suspected of having large quantities of oil like anwar or coastal regions.

By uhgotnegum on 4/4/2008 10:37:50 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not a business guy or an economics guy, so I apologize for any incorrect assumptions I mistakenly make...but...

I'm unsure whether I'd prefer big businesses controlling a number of the services I use or not. One the one hand, I think they allow for improved innovation, standardization (read: *hopefully* facilitating progress/growth), and access. But, what does this cost me? The bigger the business, the less it is that I can negotiate the terms of my service (i.e., no personalizing). Thinking from Comcast, I "seem" to negotiate my cable packages, but the reality is that I'm only trying to reduce their extra profits down to a level where they are only making regular profits.

I also want competition. It seems less advantageous to have bigger businesses because fewer businesses can compete with them. However, it also seems like bigger businesses can charge less for certain items or services, and I welcome the idea of spending less.

I guess this opinion really boils down to which option I think has more advantages and fewer disadvantages. Maybe I just fail to understand why there can't be an option that incorporates (no pun intended) the best of a big business model with the personalized attention a smaller business can afford to its customers.

There's my 2 cents, anyway...With a few more, I still wouldn't be able to buy anything.

By glennpratt on 4/4/2008 12:08:14 PM , Rating: 2
Here's my opinion on that. The problem isn't the companies so much as the conflict of interest and micro monopolies. Comcast and the rest see themselves as a media company, phone company and cable company because they own the lines to your house. That's wrong in my opinion. First, they should never be granted exclusive access to lines that run on public easements and private property, they should be controlled by a seperate entity or their shared use should be regulated. Second, one company shouldn't be selling cable, internet and voice. It's a natural conflict of interest. If Comcast only sold internet, do you think they'd be worried about limiting what's un-'lawful' in thier minds or would they be worried about providing the best internet possible, period?

By TruthasIknowit on 4/4/2008 8:27:36 PM , Rating: 2
Now we are getting into a discussion of Communism verses Capitalism. Those cable companies and their predecessors built those lines and in many cases are still paying off the debts they incurred doing so. Are you proposing that the government takes away there property? Have you ever requested anything for a government agency and received the most efficient service? The cable companies have a bad rep, with good reasons, but not THAT BAD.

(To the best of my knowledge cable companies have to pay local governments for every pole and easement they use. Most of the new players in this industry, like the Bells, have negotiated some slick deal with the government which give them some advantages.)

Completion is what we need. Since the cable companies started taking telco customers from the Bells have started to reduce pricing and improve services. The Bells are starting to make the cable companies feel the pain, with internet and video, and the reverse is starting to occur. More competition the better.

By phxfreddy on 4/5/2008 5:25:08 PM , Rating: 2
Here here!

Comcast Customer responds ...
By funchords on 4/4/2008 9:44:14 PM , Rating: 2
I am the Comcast customer who discovered this problem and reported it more than five months before the AP picked up the story.

I saw Cohen's letter and I have made a reply. You can read it at -- My Response to Comcast VP Cohen -- (links to on the FCC system)


Robb Topolski

By TruthasIknowit on 4/4/2008 10:34:10 PM , Rating: 2
Whoa... I can see you are very passionate about this subject. Hopefully this will motivate the cable companies to spend more money on their networks despite stock holder objections and Wall Street. Have you every lived in an area where the cable company goes bankrupt? You thing the service was crappy before!

Sounds like it is going to cost them billions, unfortunately that cost will eventually roll back to the customers. They will probably end up doing what other ISP have starting doing in both Canada and Europe; capping max uploads and download and charging for overruns.

Congrats on you partial victory.

By phxfreddy on 4/5/2008 5:35:28 PM , Rating: 2
Wow ripped that one up real good. I want you on my side!

Gaming Effected Also
By FredEx on 4/4/2008 7:04:09 AM , Rating: 2
I'm a gamer, but do no do the on-line stuff. Friends that do and are using Comcast have had it effecting their on-line gaming. Halo uses P2P and Sandvine does not distinguish that P2P networking from file downloading/sharing P2P networking.

It seems the more this is looked into, the more we see effected by it.

RE: Gaming Effected Also
By JSK on 4/4/2008 2:43:17 PM , Rating: 2
I still haven't seen any kind of traffic shaping here and I use BT like it is going out of style, and I game online a ton also.

Maybe I am just on a not-so-filled hub.

We're gonna law down the LAW!
By MrBlastman on 4/4/2008 10:03:51 AM , Rating: 2
There's a new Sheriff in town and they go by the name of COM CAST. *spits into a tin pail*

You sirr best watch yer' tail cause we're on tooo YOU!

They've deputized yer big brother and the judgement has been made. It is off to the pokey for all of ya!

At least, that is how Comcasts CEO sounds in his letter:

“As we have unambiguously stated on the record, Comcast’s customers have been, are, and will continue to be free to access any lawful Internet content and to use any application and service of their choice, including those that utilize peer-to-peer (‘P2P’) protocols.”

Since when does Comcast have the ability to determine intent regarding the law and make perpetrator out of anyone? They do have the right to defend their networks but determining intent and culpability on a bittorrent stream isn't 100% straightforward. There are many legitimate users of it out there, as there are many that are not.

I don't think it is as simple as saying - well, the user is downloading music so they are guilty, or, the users is downloading software so they are guilty.

I think this is a very complex issue and not something that be lightly decided by software algorithms alone.

They aren't judge, jury and sheriff.

A WHAT letter?
By mindless1 on 4/5/2008 6:38:07 AM , Rating: 2
You call that a nasty letter? Strange spin on it, I can't help but wonder what you'd call a letter that really was nasty.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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